It was a long-kept secret between Olympic gold medalist Isabell Werth and the German Equestrian Federation that Werth’s ride El Santo NRW tested positive for cimetidine at the 2012 Rhineland Championships, held at Langenfeld (Germany), June 21-24. But the secret came out on Feb. 8 in the online edition of the leading German equestrian magazine St. Georg, after the disciplinary commission of the German FN had its most recent meeting on the case about three weeks ago. The result of the A sample was made known to the rider a short time after the Rhineland Championships. Later, the B sample also tested positive.
The German FN’s press officer Susanne Hennig told the Chronicle there will be no statement from the German FN until the disciplinary commission has made its final decision.
“Until this decision is made, the rider will face no sanction in this case of prohibited medication,” said Hennig. “It would be different if this were a case of doping. In that case, the rider would have been suspended immediately from competition. It is now the rider’s duty to prove her innocence. She has to obtain experts' certificates to prove it. Certainly, it will be in her own interest to do this as quickly as possible, but I don't know when we can expect these certificates or the decision of the disciplinary commission.”
The next meeting of the disciplinary commission on this case will take place in March.
Werth stated she would never have given El Santo medication for stomach ulcers or other stomach problems, but that his barn neighbor, Warum Nicht FRH, received these medications as a precaution, since after his pelvis fracture he received the painkiller phenylbutazone for a long period of time. Warum Nicht was given cimetidine—a medication that treats gastric ulcers—by a syringe into his mouth. Werth’s groom might have emptied the syringe into Warum Nicht’s drinking trough and washed it in there.
In an interview with St. Georg, Werth also added that if El Santo had needed any stomach medication, she would have given him Gastrogard, a brand name product containing omeprazaole, which is an allowed substance. But she gave Warum Nicht cimetidine, since it was administered over a long period and is much cheaper than Gastrogard. She added in this interview, “I was notified at Langenfeld before my start that I would have to do the doping test, but after the competition there was no one to pick me up for testing, and I went to the testing site with El Santo on my own. If I feared that the test would be positive, I would have loaded my horses on the truck and gone home.”
After some investigation at her barn, the only explanation Werth can come up with is contamination of El Santo’s drinking water. There was a power failure, which caused the barn well water pump to produce negative pressure, drawing the water from Warum Nicht's waterer and later, when working again, pumping the contaminated water into El Santo's waterer.
Werth has commissioned a technical university to provide a certificate proving that this procedure was technically possible.
“If the certificate proves this, the next step would be that she would commission a second certificate to prove that the water could have contained as much cimetidine as was found in El Santo,” said Hennig. No information about the amount found in El Santo’s drug test has been released.
For Werth, a lot is at stake, since she could be considered a repeat offender having already been banned for six months from competition after a positive doping test for the antipsychotic fluphenazine at the 2009 CDI Wiesbaden (Germany). If found guilty, she risks another ban for at least one year.
But, the situation is much more complicated now, since the Rhineland Championships were a national show, and cimetidine is forbidden by the German FN but not by the Fédération Equestre Internationale. For the FEI, cimetidine is an allowed substance for administration, but certain rules must be obeyed. The medication can be submitted to the horse before a competition, but not during a competition—like at the stops during an endurance race. And, the administration of this medication would have to be documented.
In the case of the 11-year-old Rhinelander gelding El Santo, the rules of the German FN apply, since the drug test was done at a national show. Cimetidine is listed in Appendix II of the "FN Anti-Doping and Medication Control Regulations," which lists the forbidden substances and prohibited medications in competition, while doping substances are listed in Appendix III.